I was going through some old files the other day and came across a folder from my old Oakland days and discovered I had kept a great article entitled: Pat Holt’s Top Ten Mistakes Writers’ Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do). This morning I thought I’d look up her blog site, Holt Uncensored, and was delighted to see that her list was still up on the web and so, with a shout out to her, I’ve included this as the starting off point for putting together our own Kill Zone top 15 (or maybe 20) mistakes that single you out as an amateur writer.
Holt’s top 10 are:
- Repeats – where a writer unconsciously has a ‘crutch’ word that is repeated (sometimes ad infinitem) in a manuscript. This may be a common word (see my recent blog post on writing tics) or an unusual word that stands out if repeated, or it could be a phrase that needs to be ‘lopped off’. So repeat after me…No Repeats!
- Flat writing – where your writing goes and die on the page…
- Empty adverbs – when used unnecessarily ’empty’ adverbs don’t add anything – in fact they can suck the meaning from a phrase or appear infantile and clunky.
- Phony Dialogue – be careful not to use dialogue to advance the plot (people don’t normally recite plot facts to one another) or you can lose credibility with your reader. Also be wary of using ‘fashionable’ dialogue or slang that can make your dialogue sound dated.
- No-good suffixes – don’t take a good word and muck with it by adding ‘ness’, ‘ize’, ‘ly’ or ‘ingly’ to the end of it….otherwise you get ‘meaninglessness’
- ‘To be’ words – nix these and use words like ‘is’, ‘am’, were’, ‘being’, ‘been’ or ‘there was’ or ‘there is’ sparingly as they can flatten your prose.
- Lists – don’t provide a long list of items as if they were on a checklist. Whether it be nouns (e.g. every flower in the garden) or verbs (e.g. everything your protagonist did that morning) this will only cause a reader’s eyes to glaze over.
- Show, don’t tell. ‘Nuff said!
- Awkward phrasing – cull any weird or awkward phrases that stop a reader in the midst of reading or which makes you sound like you’re trying way to hard to show you’re a ‘writer’.
- Commas – make sure you know your grammar and punctuation so you can demonstrate to an agent or editor you know what you’re doing.
To this great list I would add:
- Data downloads – don’t suddenly force feed your reader lengthy exposition that halts the story in its tracks
- Spell Check! – nothing says ‘amateur’ than sloppy typos.
- Know your core story and stick with it (for this I have to give kudos to Larry Brooks, my Monday blog-mate, as his book Story Fix clearly demonstrates, this is where many writers (both novice and professional) come adrift)
- Purple prose – If a simple, clear, precise description will suffice don’t overburden it with flowery, purple prose.
- Faking it – readers know if you’re not being authentic so don’t try and mimic another writer’s ‘voice’ – find your own and go with it…Also if you are writing say a romance just because you think you can make money, but you don’t actually like or read the genre, guess what? Readers, agents, and editors will know. There’s no point faking it…
So what about you TKZers, what would you add to make your ‘Top List of Mistakes That Make You Look Like An Amateur’?